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BLIND, STUPID AND DESPERATE
 
03/04: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 14/10/03, 7.45pm
Watford
versus
Walsall
 
Spread a little happiness
By Ian Grant

"Even when the darkest clouds are in the sky
You mustn't sigh and you mustn't cry
Spread a little happiness as you go by..."

Or don't, as you wish.

In the past, there have been many articles on this site that've suggested, in various ways, that supporters generally get the team, the performances and the league position that they deserve. We've usually been talking about Wolves, natch. We'll talk about Watford this time, though. And, on this evidence, I'd suggest that our supporters might well deserve a couple of seasons in the Conference.

I know the score, of course. You pay your money and you can do what you want, within reason. Fair enough. You can sit in complete silence, you can howl abuse at any one of eleven different players (pick your favourite or collect the set!), you can make your protest with some well-chosen or crassly-chosen words, you can boo and wail and snarl and cry and growl, you can do what you want. None of it helps the team, most of it actually does the opposite, but helping the team isn't your job, right? Nobody pays you, you pay them. It's your right, to be exercised on a weekly basis for all time, or until someone belts you over the head with a large mallet.

Good lord, though...what on earth has happened to everyone else? Have you all just given up, resigned to fate after ten games and eagerly jumping aboard the last bandwagon to Miseryville before it leaves? Did someone feed the wrong commentary into Watford World, and I've yet to find out that we actually lost seventeen-nil at Crewe ten days ago? Or was Paul Robinson suddenly the best player to grace a Watford shirt for decades, not only to be mourned but to be used as an excuse for despising each and every one of those who remain, simply for not being able to persuade West Brom to pay 400k for them instead? Or what, like?

Oh, I dunno. As you say, not your job. But it does seem to me that the team has done its utmost to steer the season onto a new, and altogether less perilous, course in the last couple or three games. Even the most cursory glance at the league table revealed that the points gained at Crewe had suddenly made the rest of the table seem a lot nearer. And, no matter how sad events of the last week might have been, it seems pretty clear that the club is still doing its utmost to steer a course away from the bloody great big rocks that've been threatening us for the last eighteen months. That was the reality at a quarter to eight last night. And it was greeted with utter indifference.

I mean, utter indifference. Fair enough, supporters don't have to support. But can no-one even be bothered to raise a song when the match kicks off? Is even that too much to ask? Or are we content merely to rely on the players to inspire themselves...because, after all, they're paid well enough for the privilege of turning out for this particular football club? (I nearly said our football club, but I'm not sure that just paying to get through the turnstiles qualifies anyone for ownership. I pay to get into my local cinema too, after all, and I'm fairly sure that I have no claim over that.) And if it's only a matter of a business arrangement, why all of the fuss about loyalty and commitment and suchlike? And why all of the fuss about Robbo? Because he was one of us? Not on last night's evidence, he wasn't, for Robbo was actually prepared to show some passion for Watford Football Club....

So, really, we all got the performance that we deserved. And, inevitably, we greeted at least half of that performance with rotten fruit, pelted randomly and inaccurately at anyone and everyone, from the board to the manager to pretty much all of the players. Which, yet again, is a perfect right, imperfectly exercised. Let no-one stand in our way, if we're that keen to wallow in our own spectacular misery. Let no-one stand in our way, if we want to boo a goalkeeper who's done more for the club than any of us ever will, even if we pay our twenty quid every week from now until the sun explodes. (Implodes? Or explodes? Or both? Hm.) Let no-one stand in our way, if we want to sing the name of someone who's left and jeer the names of those who remain. Let no-one, and nothing, stand in our way. And let us enjoy the consequences, in all their grotesque glory.

Yeah, so...this was fun.

As match reports go, this one seems about as pointless as the game itself. That is, it would've suited everyone if Ray Lewington had been able to make a phonecall to Colin Lee, negotiate a one-all draw, and save the trouble of a Tuesday night spent watching nonsense and listening to nonsense. And save me the trouble of a Wednesday morning spent writing (about) nonsense. It wasn't pretty, it wasn't entertaining...and, yes, we'll take a point in the absence of anything better. Next, please....

I'll be as quick as I can, honestly. I've got work to do too, you know. And, much as I've attempted to accentuate the positive, there wasn't a whole lot of positive to be drawn from this particular scrap. The point is, obviously, that it doesn't matter if this was the worst performance in the history of history...because we'll still have to play a game on Saturday, we'll still have try and win it, and we'll still have repeat the pattern until May. Get on with it, nothing else to do.

Nothing else. If better times are around the corner, we'll never find them by stumbling along with our eyes fixed on the pavement. And, while the collective disinterest in the stands never quite infected the players, it did little to focus them on the task in hand. A messy, ragged, largely appalling first half, sparsely punctuated by a couple of Walsall sitters, for Hay within two minutes, stabbing a close range chance at Alec Chamberlain after we'd left Robbo to mark the far post at a free kick, and later for Ritchie, just failing to make a connection with a quite lovely Merson set piece. Which isn't to say that Walsall weren't rubbish, their ageing star aside, merely that we were probably marginally worse.

Here, the 4-3-3 formation just seemed to expose our weaknesses. For a start, it left Lloyd Doyley without an obvious outlet, and his confidence rapidly waned as a consequence, even affecting his usually flawless defensive contribution. It still strikes me that too much is made of his attacking deficiencies, for there are occasions when he forgets his reviews, runs at opponents and looks rather exciting...a really fine cross to set up Bruce Dyer for an off-target header being one example, and an inspired rampage, a simple pass, and a continuation of the charge into the six yard box late in the second half being an even better case. A load of howling whenever a pass did go astray helped little, naturally.

Elsewhere, the strikers seemed to fill the final third, without coinciding with the ball often enough. And the midfield fought gamely, but neither Neal Ardley nor Jamie Hand were able to impose themselves on the game in any decisive, constructive way. Only Paul Devlin could claim to have made a really positive impact, yet even his contribution seemed to involve ignoring the formation and becoming a wandering minstrel. Which is all rather depressing, especially since the eventual switch to 4-4-2 only really changed matters because it involved the introduction of a half-fit Micah Hyde.

Sorry, the game. If we must. I mean, I shouldn't give the impression that it was entirely dreadful...if only because it's sunny outside and it's a new day and, well, it's a shame to ruin things. We did, after all, thread some things together amid the general nervousness and haplessness, and Walker pushed a Scott Fitzgerald shot around the post after good work from Danny Webber and Paul Devlin, and the same player headed awkwardly wide from close in after Devlin had done remarkably well to dig out a cross from the front row of the Vic Road end. That said, it's hard to maintain the pretence that we weren't deeply and worryingly, erm, worried by everything, anxiety repeatedly betrayed by cautious passing, unnecessary touches and an absolute refusal (Fitzgerald aside, as usual) to shoot when given the opportunity.

We could've survived all of that, of course. A few shakes of the head at half-time, perhaps, but hope of a second half improvement that would see us safely through to victory. That would've done. Three points, move on, and so forth. Except that we didn't ever make it that far, courtesy of a punch from Alec Chamberlain in competition for a cross from the left that only reached the edge of the area, headed back instinctively by Osborn. It floated over everyone, just evading Stephen Kelly's attempts to head clear from underneath his own crossbar. Before, it wasn't too disastrous; now, it was much too disastrous.

None of which really excuses the huge eruption of utter fury from those who'd merely sat silently and carelessly for the preceding thirty-eight minutes. And it certainly doesn't excuse the booing...which was probably just aimed at everything and nothing, a random out-pouring of agony and torment. But if you do see anyone booing Alec Chamberlain, please refer to the terms and conditions in your season ticket, for I think you'll find that you're perfectly entitled to bring the matter to the attention of a steward, who will administer a firm punch on the nose to restore proper order. True, Alec has been at fault on too many occasions of late, and his confidence has clearly slumped with everyone else's...but, well, you know. History's written, nobody can change it. And nobody should want to change it, for heaven's sake.

For the remainder of the half, the football was rather incidental. Sure, Bruce Dyer blazed over from an angle from a Scott Fitzgerald flick, but it didn't much matter. The evening no longer revolved around football, becoming more of an open air therapy session, a wild and vibrant airing of any and every grievance. You half expected fights to break out over which Watford player was more f***ing useless, which of the eleven was first in line for a bloody good kicking, such was the general sense of retribution for all crimes committed against the blameless innocents that are the good folk of Watford. It wasn't pleasant, put it that way.

And the discontent raged for another fifteen minutes after a particularly grumpy half-time interval. Sack the board? Can you actually do that, technically speaking? Sack the manager? What, and sell Heidar to pay for his contract settlement? Sack the players? And, erm, what then? Logic isn't the point, obviously...none of us go to football to enjoy a good couple of hours of logic. But Christ, it ought to intervene somewhere, before we all join the vast carnival of self-pity and lose touch with reality altogether. Perhaps it might be helpful if, rather than Neil Cox wearing that flippin' coat again, the big screen showed the club's bank balance in very big numbers. Just for reference, in case anyone thinks that we actually have money, or anything. Nothing happened on the pitch, by the way.

And then Micah Hyde and Ashley Young came on, replacing Bruce Dyer (whose departure, disgracefully, was cheered by the Lower Rous...because, as everyone knows, he's keeping loads of other brilliant strikers out of the side, or something) and Jamie Hand. And then we scored. Or Walsall scored for us. Fine work from Paul Devlin, mind...cutting outside the defence on the right and flipping a very decent cross into the box. If Danny Webber's hairdresser had used a number four rather than a number one, he'd have scored. No matter, though, for Baird prodded into his own net from a couple of yards to level things, thus avoiding meltdown on the Samaritans' switchboard.

With half an hour left, you'd have rather hoped that we'd have gone onto win it. Still, bearing in mind that we'd been staring miserably at the opposite possibility for some time, the middle ground didn't seem too bad at all. A point's not much use, clearly. But a bit of support, some applause, another unbeaten match...well, they might help, a little.

For all that Micah Hyde and Ashley Young rejuvenated the side, one by giving the midfield some zip and vim and words like that, and the other by doing much the same to the left flank, we didn't get terribly far towards a winning goal. The best chance fell to Marcus Gayle, loitering on the edge of the box to receive an absolutely terrific cut-glass through-ball from Micah Hyde, but doing no more than scuff the ball in Walker's general direction. Neal Ardley drove into the Rookery and Ashley Young slashed a half-volley over in injury time too, after Walker had rather flapped at a looping cross from Lloyd Doyley, but none of this was much to write home about. Neither were Walsall's attacks, producing only a header wide from Ritchie and a weak effort from Leitao.

Still, there were a couple of treats. For one, there was a sublime moment of skill from Ashley Young, flipping the ball over a challenge, then digging it away from another opponent, before thumping a cross into the chest of a defender to forlorn appeals for a penalty. Marvellous, that. And a very different, if no less inspiring, moment from Scott Fitzgerald, simply charging at a bouncing ball that he was third in line for, bursting between the two defenders to head it forwards, then thundering ahead to reach it again, before Hay won the second yellow card of the evening by bringing him crashing to the ground. Again, marvellous. And, yes, we want more of that from all of them. But it is there, at least.

It ended, which was no bad thing. And it's not a match that really deserves much analysis, really...merely a match that's passed us by, another increment for the "games played" column. And, yes, I do know that my earlier comments were probably sanctimonious claptrap, that we're all responsible for our own actions, that supporting a football team is about more than shouting "hurrah, well played!" at regular intervals. I know that, you know that.

But there's a happy medium somewhere, surely.

Come on, you 'Orns....